So, much like Raw last week, it’s a different kinda Raw Expectations this week. Since I started doing this in November, I’ve held off ‘personalizing’ it with a lot of ‘I, me, my’ – obviously they were opinion pieces, but I felt they read more like actual analysis versus a long comment I might leave on Disqus. Well, this week, I’m afraid I’m in a long-comment mood.
How do I suggest what the expectations are for a show that doesn’t even know what to expect from itself?
What Am I Watchin’ Here?
It’s no secret Raw’s been off the rails for a while now. Wrestling fans complaining about the product is as normal as the sun rising, but the outcry was amplified last summer. Questions and comments about the quality of weekly television were echoed through fall. Finally, Seth Rollins was sent to the ring for a strange half-in, half-out of kayfabe segment. Rollins played the role of fans everywhere, as he blasted Baron Corbin (apparently in the role of WWE Creative) for problems the Internet Wrestling Community had bitched about for a long time. Their answer was a massive reboot, the McMahon’s opening a late-December Raw promising “change”.
Not a Good Plan
Sadly, it’s obvious now they didn’t have a single, tangible plan for changing things. Worse than that, I don’t think Vince has any intention of changing any of his own long-term plans, however flimsy they are. So intent is he on having Roman Reigns in the vaunted top spot, that even shelved with a serious illness, Vince won’t replace him on the card. Talent the audience wants to see pushed seem to get punished for drawing heat from talent the office wants to shoehorn into a spot. Elias is one of the latest victims of this; apparently, the crowd liked him too much. So he got stuck in a couple of meaningless feuds with 50/50 booking. His alignment shifted from face to heel, with no reason given for either switch. And now, coming off another pointless back-and-forth with Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett, his momentum’s in the can. Perhaps he can share a beer with Rusev. Cesaro and Zac Ryder can chuckle and say, “Oh, you didn’t know? You’re not the story they’re telling.”
More NXT, You Say?
Last Monday’s Raw was nuts, and not in the good way a wrestling show can be nuts. I started seeing the rumours about the NXT guys appearing a couple hours after I uploaded last week’s column. Most of the guys I watch or read seemed to be leading towards assuming we were getting another invasion angle of some sort. That made sense to me, and I was suddenly a lot more interested in the show than I had been.
Then, Triple H opened the show, and killed all the dreams. Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Ricochet and Aleister Black were indeed going to be appearing, and wrestling, but that was it. No real explanation offered, outside of basically, ‘you’re gonna love these guys!’
And okay – Ciampa and Gargano against The Revival for the main event. Great match, awesome match-up, NXT’s two top singles champs versus the new Raw Tag Team Champions. But it was lost on a Raw audience who are right to still question The Revival’s credibility, let alone be expected to know DIY’s history with and against each other. If they’d spent a few weeks building it – showing highlights from match-of-the-year candidate NXT tag bouts, explaining the paths of Gargano and Ciampa from being NXT tag champs to today – it would have meant so much more. It might have gotten people invested. Instead, last Monday, Raw ran with four guys most of their core audience don’t even know as their main event. And don’t get me started on what the loss does to undermine The Revival, right after giving them the belts.
‘I Dunno, Just Do Something!’
Make no mistake, this was absolutely a hail-Mary, desperation move by Vince McMahon and WWE Creative. For several weeks, I’ve been writing about how weak the top of the male roster is on the red side. But instead of doing anything to actually address this, they just keep tossing more wrestlers at the problem. Raw has lost a fifth of its viewership from this time last year. It’s not because they don’t have the talent available. Creative just wouldn’t know what to do with ’em if they came with a set of instructions.
Part of the reason I wanted to write this weekly column was because pro wrestling should be, at its core, incredibly predictable. Sure, we love and want surprises, but even a lot of those are anticipated by fans. For some time now, though, it’s been tough to predict what WWE is going to present, because there’s no consistency. There’s no consistency with characters, or talent in general, or stories. Which frankly leaves me wondering more and more each Monday why I would want to watch the show. If I can’t think of reasons for myself to watch it, I find it very difficult to present any reasons to readers.
Keeping Hope Alive
Anyway, I can’t help myself, I hold out hope. My hope now, knowing their penchant for dipping into ‘real life’, is they play on this week’s rumours of clashes between Vince and Triple H. Let’s see Triple H and his crew of NXT’s most recent call-ups tell McMahon it’s time for him to move along. It would make a million times more sense than what we got last Monday, which stunk of desperation.
With that being said, I suppose I should wrap up this rant with a bit of preview for tonight’s edition. What, if anything, can we expect from Raw? Even the Official Preview for this week’s show is light on details. We’re going to have a bit of a party with the Nature Boy, as WWE celebrates the legendary Ric Flair and his 70th birthday this evening. Expect Becky Lynch to show up, and expect everyone to wind up covered in cake.
Roman Address The Empire
We also know, as per a Tweet from WWE last Thursday, Reigns will be appearing on tonight’s show. Rumours abound as to the ultimate motivation – is there any chance he could be in the ring for WrestleMania? Is this just taking an opportunity to give fans an update, or is Reigns this week’s desperate grab for viewers? How much of a say in appearing did Reigns have? I would like to believe he’s there of his own volition, and my assumption is this will be an update that puts him back shortly after Mania. I haven’t seen anything released officially on his health status, but I have seen lots of positive reports and updates from colleagues and friends. The photo released from the set of his movie with The Rock showed he’s certainly in great physical shape. Fingers crossed it’s all good news.